Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Talking Shop

For years, I've been struggling to earn enough money to keep us afloat. Because of this, Bren has had to do what she can to fill the gap. From taking jobs as a cleaner, shop worker, care assistant, etc, and bringing home a second income, to spending three years doing a fine art and photography course for the loan money she'll never be rich enough to repay, to finally opening her own shop.

The enterprise was made possible because of something called the Empty Shops fund, a grant from central government to local authorities to help fill empty shops. This grant allowed Bren to spend money we wouldn't have otherwise have had on fixtures and fittings.

Bren put a huge amount of work into a business plan. As well as selling things made by local artists, she would also host craft workshops. If one thrived while the other languished, the shop could be reconfigured to suit the demand. She made a variety of projections - an optimistic forecast, a pessimistic forecast, and one somewhere between the two. She used her contacts in the local arts scene to source suppliers, and established the structures and protocols that would make things work.

In due course, she got a 3 year lease on a property on Seaview Road in Liscard. Not the main shopping area but one of the main roads close by, and itself lined with shops.

The shop opened with pomp and fanfare last may. The mayor cut the ribbon, and wished us all luck. Drinks were drank and cakes were eaten, and Bren settled down to a regular routine of 50 hour weeks, trying everything she could to make the shop look attractive to the passing trade.

And nothing she did was any use. Footfall is steady, but people just walk on by, or if they trouble to call in, they keep their money in their pockets. Her most pessimistic assessment was utterly, hopelessly optimistic.

Still, she persevered. Christmas would come and she would make a decent profit then, enough to tide us over through the leaner months ahead.

Christmas came, and it didn't. On a good day she would break even. The surge, what there was of it didn't continue into January.

People have reams of good advice but frankly, Bren has had enough. She wants out. And I want my wife back. It breaks my heart to see her work so hard for less than nothing.

She contacted her landlord, explaining that things were so bad that they could no longer continue, and asking for some kind of negotiated get out. We pay X months future rent up front and get out. The landlord gets a new tenant and is paid twice for the same space. If he can get a new tenant anyway.

The landlord has troubles of his own. The shop next door is vacant, and has been for a long time. The flats upstairs will soon be vacant. He suggests we use a letting agent to sublet the property, or that it would take a substantial sum of money to buy ourselves out of the lease.

So if we're stuck with the space, we're wondering how it can possibly be re-purposed.

It's currently trading as "Paper, Scissors Stone", a shop retailing the arts and crafts produced by local artists and craftspeople, and also offering workshops in various crafts, from photography to jewellery making
 to scrapbooking. It has planning permission for the sale of cold foods and snacks, but not hot food. It's got a main front area that's spick and span, a back room and a kitchen with a toilet in a small room off it. It has a small back yard that can park a car.

So if you, dear reader, have any off beat suggestion as to what could be done with this space, please feel free to share them with me. I've had some vague notion that it could be used as some kind of high street presence for my driving school, but Bren thinks this is not a productive suggestion. She's thinking of using the space to produce craft items which she can then sell, perhaps using ebay or similar. Another idea is that she buys old furniture, and blings it up using the space as a carpentry/upholstery workshop.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Insert PIE here

I've been working on a way of looking at things. When I discuss this with my pupils they nearly all find something useful in it. I call it the pie triangle.

It's a simple enough concept. There are three main aspects governing someone's ability to drive (and to do many other things too for that matter).Each aspect influences the others. So they can be expressed as a triangle, and since the initial letters of those three aspects are P, I and E, we end up with a nice slice of pie.

The P stands for Physical. It's your ability to kane the car do what you want it to do. Being able to steer properly. Being able to balance the car on the clutch at an uphill junction. Having the coordination to make the car move very slowly while simultaneously steering quickly.

I is for Intellectual. You have to know that a red traffic light means stop, that a red triangle is a warning, that you normally drive about a metre from the kerb. Without an understanding of what's expected of you, you won't be able to drive properly. This will also affect your ability to physically do what you need to do.

These first two are the traditional domain of driving instructors, but there is a third aspect.

E is for Emotional. An angry driver, a panicky driver, a calm driver, a confident driver. Each will drive differently, all other things being equal. The angry driver will use the controls differently to a relaxed driver. They may make different decisions, or miss information if they're distracted by some emotional aspect.

So: The PIE triangle.

In an early stage pupil, they may not yet have mastered the control, and there are big gaps in their knowledge and understanding. If someone is nearing test standard, and they make an error, it's far more likely to be because of nerves or a lack of confidence.

If I go through some error a pupil has made, asking them to rate the importance of each aspect, they generally feel that the control is there but that they either didn't know what to do, or they were nervous about the situation they were trying to deal with. If asked to provide percentages, they put the physical at perhaps 0-10%, with the Intellectual and Emotional split fairly evenly at 40+% each.

I've incorporated directional arrows in the diagram above. This is to indicate that each effects the other. For example, a nervous driver will grip the gear lever very hard, and will attempt to force the car into gear. A relaxed driver will use a much lighter touch, and will work with the characteristics of the gearbox to select the right gear. A panicking driver, particularly one that's still subvocalising routines and sequences, will forget elements of what they should be doing. They might for example, turn left when asked to go straight ahead at a roundabout. The monologue in their head is replaced by an emotional noise (AAaaaggggghhhh!!!!!)

But it's a two way process. It's hard for an instructor to directly change someone's emotional state. there's a certain amount that can be done using language (choise of words and how those words are delivered) but it's also possible to change people's E by doing things with P and I. If you know what to do, and are able to make the car do what you want it to do, you're going to be more relaxed and self confident than someone who lacks either the control or the understanding to do what they need to do.

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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Or not

The bank have informed Alex that the person that advised him thay he could have a mortgage in principle had no authority to do so.

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Things are moving

Compared to the last couple of years, I find I've been blogging less. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this occurs at the same time as I have a lot going on in my life.

First of all, I continue to be busy, and am really starting to reap the rewards. Many of the people that started with me over the last month or so continue to take lessons with me, and are in the main now paying my normal lesson rate. I'm actually earning enough to pay the bills, and this situation looks likely to continue for the moment. Almost all the lessons I do are productive, and the vast majority of my pupils are more than happy with me, and the things I'm doing.

Secondly, things had started to drag with the move, but we've finally made some decisions.

Thirdly, that things came to such a point was partly because of an alcohol fuelled rant and a lot of upset. I'm not proud of myself, but neither do I regret the turn of events.

All of the above is connected.

We intend to sell the house to Bren's son, Alex. Because of the state of repair, and the amount of money that needs to be spent to modernise it, we (Bren mainly) were reluctant to burden Alex with this. Alex though, has been approved in principle for a mortgage that is more than we're asking for. The extra will go to putting a new roof on.

The fact that my trade has finally started to pay off means that we can provide help and support to Alex in the future. This has made our decision easier.

It's also absolutely crucial therefore that I don't do anything to jeopordise this situation. By perhaps still being over the limit the next morning after having a drink. So I shall only be drinking when I have no work the next day from now on.

I don't know how long it will take from this point for the move to go ahead, but Alex will be going to see someone at the bank tomorrow. We need to go tell the caravan guy that a sale has been agreed, and we really do need to start slimming down our material possessions. The fact that it's Alex that's buying it means there's a bit less hurry. It also means Lisa has more stability. She can stay here with her brother, instead of having to make her own arrangements. Alex is getting a foot on the property ladder with a good sized house at a bargain price. If he meets someone and starts a family, it will be ideal for him here. And we get rid of our debts and live a simpler more managable and sustainable life in a manner that fits our personalities as artists and oddballs.

So I'm up early every morning. Working all day. I really can't see myself spending too much time looking for letters on Google Earth or anything for the foreseeable future.

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Monday, 11 February 2013

Wind Generators

In days of yore, the weather was calm. Smoke would rise straight up. The clouds would sit lethargic. Washing would hang, lank and damp from it's pegs, with only the heat of the sun to dry it. For millions if not billions of years. Nothing. The leaves of the trees rustled not. True, the downdraught from the beating wings of a passing pterodactyl might briefly stir an eddy, but the prospect for kite flying was pretty bleak.

Then along came humankind, and for millennia more, still nothing changed. Then, at some indeterminate point, and perhaps independently in many places and at different times, the first wind generators were created.

These early devices, powered as they were by heavy wheels or simple water pumps were sparse, and the amount of wind they produced was almost negligable.

(Some early examples)

But as the rate of progress has burgeoned over the past century or so, so has the presence and capacity of these machines. Over the last couple of decades in particular, these devices have started to pop up everywhere.

Unlike the older type, inhabited by clog shod mice, these modern wind generators are powered by electricity. The biggest ones can consume as much as 10 Mw/H.

(a modern wind farm)

Take any windy day, and you won't have to look far to see the culprits. These things are out there, with their aerodynamically advanced blades whizzing around, creating as much wind as they possibly can. On a calm day of course, their blades rotate lazily if at all.

Resistance to their ever increasing number is growing. Some of the protests are just nimbyism of course. People in areas of high wind worry about the effect on the value of their homes, and claim that further generators will not only impede the views, but kill birds, and topple trees.

Others wonder what we will do with all this wind we're producing. Why not produce different kinds of weather? Like Acid Rain? Or radioactive fallout? Why the obsession with wind?

One thing is for sure though. Despite the objections, as supplies of fossil fuels diminish, humankind's need to create weather means we will be seeing a lot more of these things in the future.

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Sunday, 3 February 2013


There once was a lady called Paula
Who's writing got smaller and smaller
It used lots of ink
but then it would shrink

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